Breakthrough with Muammar Qaddafi; Libya's Leader Pledges to Give Up Weapons of Mass Destruction, Abandon Terror and Renew Ties with America. Can This Man Be Trusted?

Article excerpt

Byline: Kenneth R. Timmerman, INSIGHT

SIRTE, LIBYA - Suddenly the rustling among the 600 members of the Libyan National People's Congress and their foreign guests stopped. From out of nowhere, a half-dozen "Qaddafi girls" have taken up position, sweeping the giant amphitheater for signs of potential danger for their leader. Gone are the blond-haired East Germans whom Col. Muammar Qaddafi used to employ as his personal bodyguards, all trained in the martial arts. Today's Qaddafi girls are primarily Libyan, although some have been recruited from neighboring African countries. They wear camouflage uniforms and red berets. All sport hardened fingernails an inch long, coated in a deep purple gloss to look like congealed blood.

As one foreign diplomat remarked afterward, there is design behind the ghoulishness. While the entire audience focuses on the Qaddafi girls, no one notices their leader whisk in from the wings. The next thing we know, he has taken a seat at the long head table on the stage and in a halting whisper begins to address the nation's political elite.

Also in the audience are a seven-member delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), and representatives of more than 100 countries. The performance they are about to witness is vintage Qaddafi, but with a twist. Instead of a long, rambling diatribe denouncing America, Qaddafi embarks on a lengthy justification of his decision to open his country to the West. His message is unequivocal: Yesterday's enemies are about to become Libya's friends.

"At first, I was just listening to the speech," Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said afterward, "but what he was saying was so amazing that I started writing it down so I could report to my constituents. I took 24 pages of notes."

In a brutally self-critical account of Libya's past support for terrorist movements around the world, Qaddafi concluded that Libya had paid a high price for its adventures, reaping only isolation, international embargoes and underdevelopment. In case after case, he told his countrymen, Libya had helped groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the African National Congress. Now they had all made their separate peace, leaving Libya behind to continue fighting. "Are we more Irish than the Irish?" he asked. "Are we more Palestinian than the Palestinians? ... How can [Yasser Arafat] enter the White House and we not improve our relations with the United States?"

Weaving these and other examples of Libya's former actions into an overarching theme that the realities of today's world are far different from the past, Qaddafi said Libya needs to turn the page, recognizing that its troubles were not the fault of others but the result of its own policies. "No one separated Libya from the world community," Qaddafi insisted. "Libya voluntarily separated itself from others" by its actions. "No one has imposed sanctions on us or punished us. We have punished ourselves." The irony, Qaddafi stated, was that "all these things were done for the sake of others."

He asked, "If the Palestinians can recognize Israel, how can we not recognize that country?" The liberation struggles that Libya supported "are finished; the battle is finished. ... Now people are shaking hands. So should only we stay enemies?"

The United Nations imposed sweeping sanctions against Libya in 1991 in retaliation for its involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, three years earlier. Libya finally accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials and paid $2.7 billion in compensation to families of the victims of the terrorist bombing in September 2003, leading the United Nations to lift sanctions on Sept. 12.

Qaddafi also gave the first detailed public account of the reasons behind his surprise announcement on Dec. 19, 2003, that Libya was abandoning its previously secret nuclear-weapons program. …